Monday, 10 January 2011

Why Stories Matter...

Over at The International Thriller Writers Website, I've been leading a discussion on why stories matter. You can read the other contributions there, but here's what I had to say.

Why do stories matter? It’s a good question for a writer to ask themselves. If you made cars, or taught kindergarten, or worked as a farmer, it would be much easier. Your work matters because people need it. It fulfils some function. But do people need stories? What function do they have?

You could argue – not much. After all, they are just a made up series of events.

I think they do have a function. After all, we’ve been telling stories ever since cavemen sat around the first camp fires. Probably a fair numbers of those stories were thrillers (featuring hair-raising bison chases, and the inevitable double-dealing Neanderthal). A fair number would have been romances as well. It must be the case that stories perform some kind of useful function, otherwise they wouldn’t have been a feature of very human society we’ve ever known. Their function might not be obvious, like a spade, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

So what is it? In my view, the function of a story is to make sense of the world. Its takes the chaos and randomness of life and gives it some sort of shape and purpose. In fiction, there are no co-incidences, and no loose ends. That isn’t always terribly realistic. But it is a lot more satisfying for the reader because it helps to make the world seem a more structured, ordered place than it probably really is. It helps make us feel our lives move towards a destination, rather than just wander around. Along the way they may also be entertaining, diverting, amusing and sometimes even educational. But that is their core function – and realising that helps you to become a better writer.

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